R.I.P. Tropenmuseum Amsterdam (1864 – 2022)

Adios Amigo, Adios my friend,

23/06/2022 Opening of the new permanent collection “Our colonial inheritance”

No, The Tropenmuseum is not closing, or even disappearing… but next time you visit the Netherlands… just “make believe” that it closed its doors.

Tonight (23 of June 2022) I was at the opening of the new exhibition called “Our colonial inheritance”, yes it’s about colonialism, racism etc…

Remember the part with all the New Guinea art? Or the Indonesian art? Or the African art? (check the gallery below for how it used to be) Yeah, that is all gone, “Our colonial inheritance” is the new main exhibition now… And unless your hobby is slavery and colonialism, there is not a lot to see…a few photographs, some colonial items, some paintings and a lot of modern “urban” handicraft style “art”.

Luckily, not all the art is gone though, there are still some remarkable pieces on display.. just not a lot. It feels like the two directors (prof. dr. Wayne Modest and Marieke van Bommel) would rather have had a museum of modern art and slavery, but couldn’t quite get away with not putting any actual old objects on display… They do their best though, as an example they chose to display modern made for sale (to tourists) Mimika/Kamoro objects instead of the authentic items they have in the basement (because we all visit museums to see items we can buy on Ebay for about 100 dollar/euro..right?)

Other items are literally kept in the dark, making them hard to see and impossible to photograph. Don’t expect any numbers on the few objects they have on display either… you are just supposed to play: “Match the description” with an item in the case…impossible for regular visitors and probably doable for scholars, dealers, collectors and other professionals… but here we find a big problem: There is no reason for any of these groups to visit this museum anymore.

Last week I was lucky enough to visit both the Musée du quai Branly – Jacques Chirac in Paris and the Musée d’ethnographie de Genève and wow was I impressed with the collection and the way they have it on display, numbers with descriptions next to the items too… who knew that would be handy?

In Paris the luck was even greater: “Power and prestige” the monumental exhibition about the art of clubs in Oceania curated by Professor Steven Hooper was on… A powerhouse of an exhibition…just make plans to see it and thank me later!…how many times can you say WOW in an exhibition? More than I could count.

But the fun doesn’t end there, they made a proper publication about it too…. I recommend you buy it…because it will become “the book” (or standard reference) on oceanic war clubs for a long time to come, trust me.

Back to the museum that used to be relevant: The Tropenmuseum is on a quest, a quest to be free, a quest to be free from the chains of all that old stuff they have, all the useful publications they used to make and especially the people that used to enjoy going there. Now they have more important matters, like teaching about colonialism and slavery and making exhibitions so lackluster I would refuse the catalog even if it came wrapped in gold leaf (a so-called space waster catalog).

The disappointment started with the Tropenmuseum’s exhibition “Healing Power” I visited a few months back: It basically has the same problems as the current exhibition… barely anything on display… except for a lot of modern “stuff” or so-called “art” the authentic items were hard to find (they made room for a fake though!) … tucked away in dark area’s or with the focus on the “display” instead of the item. A display of remarkable Batak staff’s come to mind… displayed in an artsy way without any proper way to see most of them… a real shame…

Any other complaints? Well…. you know that museum shop in Paris at the Musée du quai Branly with all the books? The one in the British Museum? The one in Leiden? and the more limited but also useful one at the Musée d’ethnographie de Genève? yeah ..?

At the Tropenmuseum they want to sell you books on Slavery and Colonialism… oh and they have Cookbooks too! Remarkable!, and tucked away at the bottom are the only scholarly publications this place has left (The incredible publications by Raymond Corbey called “Korwar Northwest New Guinea ritual art according to missionary sources” and “Jurookng. Shamanic amulets from Southeast Borneo” )

The next time you visit Amsterdam for the Tribal art Fair or any other reason, just remember the Tropenmuseum is gone… but we still have the Rijksmusem voor Volkenkunde in Leiden! A lovely museum! and while you are there… combine it with a trip to the Rijksmuseum van Oudheden (ancient Egyptian and Roman anyone? did I say Mummies!?) all within walking distance of each other.

Or perhaps visit the Afrika Museum in Berg en Dal; The missionaries who own the collection and the land/buildings have now officially broken with the “Nationaal Museum van Wereldculturen” the overarching museum organization for the management of several ethnographic museums and the same people that brought you this Tropenmusem disaster (How do you get to a place where people would rather turn down 1,7 million in subsidies than continue to work with you?).

But whatever you do, remember the Tropenmuseum is gone, in its place is an imposter museum that has the same name, the same location and the same basement… just not the same soul.

Adios Amigo, Adios my friend.

P.s. for the people that want to go… I have posted a large part of the new permanent collection below… yes, that really is most of the ethnographic material of the new permanent collection.

Collector: James Thomas Hooper

James Thomas Hooper (1 September 1897 – 9 February 1971) was a British collector of ethnographic artifacts of the Inuit, Native American, Oceanic and African peoples in addition to being a writer and owner/curator of the Totems Museum.

Hooper was born in North Wraxall-Wiltshire in 1897 and began collecting in 1912 when his father gave him a native spear.He became an employee of the Thames Conservancy Board but collecting was his obsession. He scoured flea markets and small antique shops in rural England for items of interest as well as purchasing from auction houses, private museums and house sales. He also organised exchanges with other dealers and collectors such as William Ockelford Oldman and Kenneth Athol Webster.

At the height of his collecting in the 1950s, he was one of the top four collectors of pacific ethnographic material in the United Kingdom. Others included Kenneth Athol Webster and William Ockelford Oldman. Hooper’s interest in collecting this material was ethnological rather than aesthetic. Like Oldman, Hooper never left Great Britain to visit the cultures that created the material he enjoyed.

After his retirement, Hooper opened the Totems Museum in Arundel, Sussex, United Kingdom in a two-story building on the High Street. He ran this museum between 1957 and 1963. The ground-floor rooms were packed full of his ethnographic collection while he and his grandson, Steven Hooper, lived in the rooms above.The British Pathe newsreel film dated 9 December 1957 follows a couple visiting the Totems Museum. While the film gives little information when describing the treasures of the museum, close attention to the background and general shots of the interior of the museum give an excellent insight into the size, diversity and quality of Hooper’s collection.

In 1954, he co-authored the publication The Art of Primitive Peoples with Cottie Arthur Burland. In it, Hooper concentrates on the art of Polynesia, Melanesia, North Coast of America, Eskimo, West Africa and the Congo. His text is illustrated with 116 photographs of items from his collection taken by R.H. Bomback.Soon after the opening of the Totems Museum, he published a guide booklet titled The Totems Museum, High Street, Arundel, Sussex : exhibiting the Hooper Collection of primitive art from Africa, the Pacific islands, New Zealand and the Americas. This was also illustrated. The Hooper Collection was also documented through photography as Hooper allowed visitors and researchers to photograph his collections. Photographs of works from his collection can be found in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Hooper’s collection continued to be documented after his death in 1971. His collection was the subject of a book by his grandson Steven Phelps – now known as Steven Hooper. Art and Artifacts of the Pacific, Africa and the Americas: The James Hooper Collection was published in 1976 and featured 250 illustrations. Soon after this book was published, parts of the collection began to be auctioned by Christie’s. Between 1976 and 1982 there were at least six auctions of material from the James Hooper Collection. The auctions included African Art from the James Hooper Collection held on 14 July 1976 at Christie’s London,American Indian Art from the James Hooper Collection held on 9 Nov 1976 at Christie’s London,Hawaiian and Maori Art from the James Hooper Collection held on 21 June 1977 at Christie’s London, Melanesian and Polynesian Art from the James Hooper Collection held on 19 June 1979 at Christie’s London,Oceanic Art From the James Hooper Collection held on 17 June 1980 at Christie’s London. and Important Tribal Art held on 7 July 1982 at Christie’s London.

Books written by or featuring Thomas Hooper

Art and Artefacts of the Pacific,Africa and the Americas
The James Hooper Collection by Steven Phelps (now Steven Hooper)

London: Hutchinson, 1976.
487pp. 8 colour and 250 monochrome plates, numerous maps, biblio., index.
A total of 1927 pieces are catalogued; the Pacific, 1307 pieces; the Americas; 424 pieces; and Africa, 196 pieces.

ISBN-10: 0091250005
ISBN-13: 978-0091250003

The Art of Primitive Peoples. J. T. Hooper and C. A. Burland
Title: The Art of Primitive Peoples
Publisher: Fountain P
Publication Date: 1953
Binding: Hardcover

African Art from the James Hooper Collection 14 July 1976
48 Pages + 38 Pages with Full Page Illustrations and 139 Lots

American Indian Art from the James Hooper Collection 9 Nov 1976 at Christie’s London

Hawaiian and Maori Art from the James Hooper Collection 21 June 1977 at Christie’s London

Melanesian and Polynesian Art from the James Hooper Collection 19 June 1979 at Christie’s London

Oceanic Art From the James Hooper Collection 17 June 1980 at Christie’s London

Important Tribal Art held on 7 July 1982 at Christie’s London.

Provenance: Twelve Collectors of Ethnographic Art in England 1760-1990 Paperback – February 15, 2010
Author: Hermione Waterfield, Jonathan C. H. King
Paperback: 176 pages
Publisher: Paul Holberton Publishing; New edition (September 8, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 190347096X
ISBN-13: 978-1903470961

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